2013) wrote "Things Fall Apart" in 1958, and since that date 12 million copies have been sold, and it has been translated into over 50 languages. Why is the book so popular? Achebe offers a realistic portrait of what happened when the indigenous Nigerians were confronted with missionaries and colonial governors, and it offers a more human, a more realistic portrayal of Africans than the portrayals offered by earlier European writers like Rider Haggard and Joseph Conrad (Heart of Darkness). The book offers a peek into African culture, beliefs, traditions and practices.
This was the last text we read and discussed in World Lit 2, and it was one of the best. The language, the proverbs (see below), the description of traditional practices, and the dialogue all coalesce in a brilliant snapshot of African life -- then the missionaries and colonial rulers arrived. Having served as a short-term missionary in Africa, in Kenya in 1979, I appreciated the perspective of an African who held on to traditions, and though his parents converted to Christianity, he never did. Achebe thought missionaries did more harm than good. It should probably be required reading for missionaries to Africa, even today.
Take a look at some of the proverbs taken from the book, and ponder their meaning for yourself:
"A man who pays respect to the great paves the way for his own greatness." 1611
"You can tell a ripe corn by its look." 1613
"Looking at a king's mouth, one would think he never sucked at his mother's breast." 1614
"Those whose palm kernels were cracked for them by a benevolent spirit should not forget to be humble." 1614
"A chick that will grow into a cock can be spotted the very day it hatches." 1632
"When a mother-cow is chewing grass its young ones watch its mouth." 1634
"If I fall down for you and you fall down for me it is play." 1636
"When a father beats a child, it seeks sympathy in its mother's hut." 1663
"Living fire begets cold, impotent ash." 1671
"The clan was like a lizard; if it lost its tail it soon grew another." 1677
"A child cannot pay for its mother's milk." 1676
"As a man danced, so the drums were beaten for him." 1683